Astronaut Experience

I have posted a really cool section from an article that came to me via Jonathan Davis’ facebook post. It’s from FAST COMPANY, – titled:

What Astronauts And Toddlers Can Teach You About Consumers

The fascinating little segment below is about the experience of astronauts judging distance on the moon. The failure of their mission was in part due to over information. I believe that -PAUL VALERIO- is right to use these experiences to benefit every thing from marketing strategies to ethnography. I know I have something to learn here… without further adue:

First, the astronauts. One little-known quirk of the Apollo moon landings was the difficulty the astronauts had judging distances on the Moon. The most dramatic example of this problem occurred in 1971 during Apollo 14, when Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell were tasked with examining the 1,000-foot-wide Cone Crater after landing their spacecraft less than a mile away. After a long, exhausting uphill walk in their awkward space suits, they just couldn’t identify the rim of the crater. Finally, perplexed, frustrated, and with the oxygen levels in their suits running low, they were forced to turn back. Forty years later, high-resolution images from new lunar satellites showed they had indeed come close–the trail of their footprints, still perfectly preserved in the soil, stop less than 100 feet from the rim of the crater. A huge, 1,000-foot-wide crater, and they couldn’t tell they were practically right on top of it. Why?

It should have been easy for them, right? These guys were trained as Navy test pilots; landing jets on aircraft carriers requires some expertise in distance judgment. They also had detailed plans and maps for their mission and had the support of an entire team of engineers on Earth. But their expertise was actually part of the core problem. The data their minds were trying to process was too good. All of the “noise” essential to creating the patterns their minds needed to process the data accurately was missing. And patterns are the key to human perception, especially for experts.

Consider everything that was missing up there. First, there’s no air on the Moon, so there’s no atmospheric haze, either. Eyes that grew up on Earth expect more distant objects to appear lighter in color and have softer edges than closer things. Yet everything on the Moon looks tack-sharp, regardless of distance. Second, the lack of trees, telephone poles, and other familiar objects left no reference points for comparison. Third, since the Moon is much smaller than the Earth, the horizon is closer, thus ruining another reliable benchmark. Finally, the odd combination of harsh, brilliant sunshine with a pitch-black sky created cognitive dissonance, causing the brain to doubt the validity of everything it saw.


For the rest of the article:


The journey of the philosopher is like that of the astronaut attempting to judge distance on a heavenly body for the first time. The horizons have shifted, cognitive dissonance sits in… references are lost and what was assumed relevant data is completely useless – these are the traits wisdom requires for acquisition, proximity, even for the search itself. The process of liberation is at the same time a process of atmospheric change; it is a morphing process where new eyes unfold a new territory of horizons.

I like astronauts!



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